There comes a time in every host's party career when she'll have to deal with guests behaving badly, from no-shows to the red-wine-on-the-white-couch spiller.
The first order of business is not only to be ready for anything, but also to embrace the unexpected.
"You're a host and there's a word for the perfect dinner party: Boring," said A. O. Storm, the Portland, Ore.-based author of "Etiquette for A-Holes." "Some people don't RSVP, some people bring a guest and some wear Tommy Bahama shirts to everything. Your job as a host is to roll with the punches and to do it with a smile."
But it's easier to do this when you're prepared. Some advice from Storm and others:
When a guest doesn't RSVP. Always include an RSVP date on your invitation. After that date, you are entitled to call or email guests to confirm that they're coming, said etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach in Florida, and author of "Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals."
If your event necessitates a final number count (such as a wedding or formal dinner), don't be shy about persisting until you get an answer, added Leslie Price, founder and planning guru of In Any Event, an event planning company in New York.
When your party just got bigger. And what about guests who never RSVP -- or weren't invited in the first place -- who arrive at your party anyway?
"If someone shows up as a surprise or brings an unexpected guest, as host, it's your job to accommodate," Price said. "This is most easily done at a wedding, since guests usually arrive either for ceremony or cocktails, which gives ample time to set an extra place setting."
Breaking the age limit. However, if that extra guest is a child at an adults-only event, the situation gets a little stickier.
Price said that as a host, you can either forgive and forget or, if applicable, politely remind the parents of your adults-only request on the invitation (you did put that on the invitation, right?) and ask them to leave.
Err on the side of empathy, Whitmore said, keeping in mind that there are situations where a baby sitter doesn't show up or the parent simply can't or won't leave the child at home.
"In this case, be polite and don't make a fuss in front of everyone," Whitmore said. "Put in a movie, set up a special children's table away from the adults and offer the child some crayons and paper."
Spills and stains. When guests spill drinks or food, it's an awkward situation for everyone.
The experts we talked to were divided on this topic. Storm said that a good host should never accept money for cleaning or replacement, because disasters such as these come with the territory.
Whitmore disagreed, saying that it's acceptable to take the payment -- or even to request it. "You can say something lighthearted like, 'Don't worry, Margie. Spills happen. I'll just send you the bill.'"
Overserved guests. Guests who become inebriated are not uncommon, but the bad behavior that results can vary dramatically: It can range from talking too loudly to more severe lapses in conduct (becoming argumentative, threatening others) that can ruin your party and put others in uncomfortable situations.
Figure out which type of behavior you're dealing with, find his handler (ideally, the person he arrived with or a good friend) and ask that person to steer him to the bathroom, if necessary, and call him a cab to make sure he gets home safely, Storm said.
In some states, hosts are responsible for guests who overimbibe -- but regardless of the law, they should never be allowed to operate a vehicle. Have a cab company's phone number handy if nobody is available to drive them home.
Overstaying their welcome. Sometimes guests don't realize that the party is actually over -- and that their hosts are ready for bed.
Start clearing the plates and dropping polite exit comments such as, "We should do this again sometime," or "Man, the night has really flown by," Storm said.
If that fails, he suggested you throw out a fake yawn and mumble something about how you have to get up early the next day.
"Should your polite cues fall on deaf ears, then it's time to bring out the big guns: Stand up and gently work your way toward the door," Storm said, "in much the same way you would bait an animal into a trap."